No More Shall We Part ended a four-year silence from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. A best-of was issued in 2000, but no new material had appeared since 1997's landmark album, The Boatman's Call. With that record, Cave had finally delivered what everyone knew he was capable of: an entire album of deeply tragic and beautiful love songs without irony, sarcasm, or violent resolution. It appears that The Boatman's Call altered the manner in which Cave writes songs, and the Bad Seeds illustrate it. Two musical directors -- the ubiquitous Mick Harvey and Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis -- craft a sonic atmosphere whose textures deepen and widen Cave's most profound and beautiful lyrics to date. The ballads have the wide, spacious, sobering ambience one has come to expect from the Bad Seeds. There is an ethereal change in sound in the uptempo numbers which are, for lack of better terminology, musical novellas. They plumb the depths of blues, yet contain glissando and crescendos from the orchestral music of composers such as Fartein Valen and Olivier Messiaen. There are places, such as in "Oh My Lord," where rock & roll is evoked as a device, but this isn't rock music. A listen to "As I Sat Sadly by Her Side," "Hallelujah," and the aforementioned track (the most "rock" song here) will attest that it is merely one color on a musical palette that is more expansive now than at any time in the band's history. Also in the band's musical treasure trove is the addition of the McGarrigle sisters on backing vocals -- nowhere is their contribution more poignant than on the tenderly daunting, haunted house that is "Love Letter." Lyrically and as a vocalist, Cave has undergone a startling, profound metamorphosis. Gone is the angry, humorous cynic whose venom and bile touched even his lighter moments. His deep, taunting ambivalence about Christ and Christianity in general is gone, vanished into a maturity that ponders spiritual things contemplatively. Humor that pokes fun at "churchianity" remains, but not as a source of inspiration. Over these 12 tracks, Cave has taken the broken heart -- so openly exhibited on The Boatman's Call -- and elevated it to the place where he has learned to live, and to speak from as both an artist and a human being. Leonard Cohen stated in the song "Anthem" that "there is a crack in everything/that's where the light gets in." No More Shall We Part is a mosaic of those cracks. If this album is about anything, it is about love's ability to survive in the world. It is examined concretely and abstractly; to the point where it meditates on this theme even cinematically. In this way, Cave touches the heart in the same way Andrei Tarkovsky's films Stalker and The Sacrifice, and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire do. There is powerful emotion here, spiritual, psychological, and romantic, without a hint of the sentimentality that would make it false. As both a singer and a songwriter, Cave's work has been transformed into something so full of depth, color, and dimension that there is simply no one except his mentors working on this level in popular music. In the opening moments of "As I Sat Sadly by Her Side," there's a tenderly, softly sung vocal. The title track is a ballad that could have been lifted from The Boatman's Call, except it lacks the reaching tragedy. And Cave sings in a tenor no one thought him capable of -- "And all the birds will sing to your beautiful heart/Up on the bell/And no more shall we part." The chaos of earlier Bad Seeds outings does kick up on "The Sorrowful Wife," where violins and Blixa Bargeld's guitars duel with Jim Sclavunos' drums for domination of the sonic torrent. The record closes with two of Cave's most beautiful songs: a near country gospel waltz called "Gates to the Garden," with the McGarrigles sweetening an already lovely tome to redemptive love, and finally, "Darker with the Day," illustrated by Harvey's striking pianistic ballad framework touched by Bill Evans' technique. This is as strikingly autobiographical as Cave has ever been, highlighting the extremes of good and evils that inform and torment the protagonist's inner emotional life in a single day. There is loss and the seeking of deliverance and, in a statement not so much of recognition but simply fate, he also acknowledges hope: "All these streets are frozen now/I come and go/Full of a longing for something I do not know." As he calls to a lover gone seemingly forever, he comes to the conclusion that for him, redemption is in love itself, whether divine or profane; the only hope is that love depends on one's openness to receiving it. Who can argue with him? No More Shall We Part leaves listeners in awe, full of complex emotions, and pondering the notion that they've been in the presence of great redemptive art, which Henry James calls "the thing that can never be repeated."
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek